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  1. fandango
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    fandango Member

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    Introduction or straight into the action?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by fandango, Jan 1, 2010.

    I'm currently trying to write a novel and have a dilemma about my start. At the moment the novel starts in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event (MC finds out that her long term boyfriend has been cheating on her). This event is the trigger for the rest of the novel. Although far from polished, I quite like this start as it gives the reader an immediate interest, intrigue and empathy to the MC. However...

    I have read previously, and understand why this may be, that an event like this should occur partway into the novel, essentially after the main protagonists and relationships have been introduced. I can see how this would give the traumatic event more prominence if the reader has a view into the "normal" life of the MC. For me though, this can lead to a boring and uninteresting start, where is the hook if the first couple of chapters are given over to humdrum "business as usual"?

    What are other people's views on this? Straight into the intrigue or does some of the start need to give way to an introduction?
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was advised once that many novels start with a brief everyday scene before the crisis hits, with the MC in his/her normal life, showing their typical behaviour, and this makes the person or circumstance that brings the crisis (usually at the end of the first chapter) seem even more dramatic.
    It also provides an implicit goal i.e. the MC wants to restore his/her life back to a peaceful everyday existence (which they may or may not have valued before).
    You could find you're doing a lot of 'telling' or flashbacks to establish what the event is if you start with the aftermath. Just a thought.
     
  3. lazerbeak81
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    lazerbeak81 New Member

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    It depends - is your story about the breakup, or about what happens afterwards? In general, you should start the story as late as possible IMO.

    Starting early just to give yourself a 'run in' before the event that you're actually interested could be just a recipe for boring, aimless action.

    If the breakup/intro is important to the actual plot - not just backstory - then put it in. Otherwise, consider leaving it out...?
     
  4. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    It really depends on how you write it, to be honest. All I can say is that, if you are planning on publication, there's got to be a reason for someone to keep reading after this first chapter, or the opening as it's referred to here. If you need to keep this for later to maybe build suspense, I suggest you do that, but it is your work and so the decision is entirely up to you. You can always come back later, after all.
     
  5. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    For my two cents, a chapter showing 'normal day in the life' will not do you any favors, if you're seeking to get the novel published. Consider your first audience: agents and/or editors. 3000-5000 words of something that everyone can understand, a normal life for a lady/girl, isn't likely to get them to read further. Often you have to hook them in the first page or two, or they'll pass onto the next mansucript in the queue or stack on their desk.

    Now that doesn't mean you have to go right to the betrayal. For example, the first chapter could open with the main character walking across the stage, shaking hands and getting her diploma (college or high school). She goes back to sit in the crowed, the ceremony ends. As she is walking over to meet her family, with her boyfriend/fiance with them, she gets a message from a good friend on her cellphone that she checks, with a picture of her boyfriend and another girl locking lips (or more).

    I just made that up, and certainly wouldn't fit into your story. But it illustrates the point that something important can be happening, and hints or elements of her normal life can be inserted, but the chapter ends on the betrayal, the game changer. What will she say or do? Her fiance/boy friend and family are only tweny feet away, crowds around, and this is supposed to be one a joyous day in her life. For my money, most readers would want to at least see what she does next.

    Good luck.

    Terry
     
  6. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I agree with Terry, though I think he meant 3000-5000 words and not pages.

    Not just agents or editors, but even regular readers want interest right away. In the book store, I read the first chapter, or if it is long, at least the first ten pages. If something doesn’t grab me, I just set the book back on the shelf.
     
  7. fandango
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    fandango Member

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    Thanks for the comments guys, very helpful. :)

    Currently the novel starts in the aftermath of a meeting of the MC and her soon to be ex where she learns about the betrayal. So straight away the reader gets an upset MC with little flashes of what happened to make her upset. Now I could change this quite easily to have a chapter which includes her going to the meeting and the actual meeting. I'm reluctant to do this because I feel that there is more intrigue in learning about the meeting indirectly throughout the early parts of the novel and this meeting isn't actually that important. But then that's at the cost of not properly introducing her to the reader and losing the extra impact that madhoca mentions.

    For info, the story is about the aftermath of the breakup, not the actual breakup itself. It's a catalyst for the MC to re-evaluate her life.

    One very useful thing, Terry's scenario, and thinking of some great first chapters, has made me realise that the end of that first chapter doesn't have a good enough ending to make the reader turn the page. Thanks :)
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no 'standard' or 'best way' to follow... each story dictates its own best path... and each writer must choose for him/herself which way to go with it...

    if you're unsure, try different ways and see which you feel works best... don't try to write by committee, for that way lies disaster... think of the camel! ;-)
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the catch, DragonGrim! Went back and repaired it.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, this is what I meant,Terry! I should have been clearer, I guess. I didn't mean to boringly go through one whole normal day. I meant you start with a scene where things are normal, and then the peace is shattered by an arrival or event. If you start straight into the fallout, you'll have to make the event, and what the MC has lost, clear. You may have a hook, but the story could be kind of empty and lose momentum half way though IMO. Not keen on the 'flashes' idea, BTW, but of course it's all in the writing.
     
  11. Tessadragon
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    Tessadragon Member

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    I'm intrigued by this matter too: it's too tricky to figure out whether the beginning should be an introduction or beginning of the action.
    All i can say is that an agent told me she didn't like a story of mine (I was 12 at the time though so it doesn't matter much) because it was a fast action scene at the beginning (began in a fight to stop demons)
     
  12. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    To me it the first few pages don't have to start in the middle of some crunching action scene. Action can be anything, from a character walking down the street on their way to work, to a car chase down a highway, and everything in between.

    I don't like books that start out with a character rolling out of bed, drinking their morning coffee, or thinking about their lives. Mundane should not be at the opening of any book, but I've seen enough of them to know someone out there approved this boring mundane book for publication.

    I like openings to do three things for me; put me in a setting, introduce me to a character, and give me a motive for reading the book. I like openings that draw me into the middle of something, not before the action, not after the action, but smack-dab in the middle of the fray. I want an inital problem right from the beginning.

    Usually I use what I like when I am in the process of writing. I remember what I don't like about some books I've read or didn't read because of the beginning few pages, and I avoid doing those things.

    I've also found that over thinking it can keep me from even starting. I normally just start writing and if later I want to change it, I can. Everything is changable in a manuscript, so I don't look at what I've written as set in stone.
     
  13. ..::Lilith::..
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    ..::Lilith::.. New Member

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    I think it probably depends on the general feel you want the whole story to have. If you want somethine fast paced and action packed, start as you mean to go on, but if it's a slowly unravelling character driven piece you need to go into it quite slowly.
     
  14. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    People need motivation to read beyond the first paragraph.

    The easiest way to create motivation is kick the book off at the point of conflict. Conflict creates questions in the reader's mind and that's great because the only way to find the answers lies in the pages beyond the first one. Motivation.

    My personal preference is not just to worry about the first chapter, but the first line. I like a book that throws you into a problem with the very first words.

    The thing is, the aim is to hook a reader. The easiest way is tension. It might possibly be the most effective as well. But it's not the only way. The other methods though require much more skill. If you're not using the plot to make your reader turn the first page, then you're relying on the quality of your prose, the voice or something else. Much much tougher to be impressive in those departments.
     
  15. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    If the story is really just about the life after the break up, then the start being the break up makes perfect sense, however if it is more about how she deals with that painful part of her life, then showing a moment where the MC is happiest before would be helpful, as the reader will not just be reading about a miserable character but realise this is the darker side of her etc.


    But how to avoid the humdrum of 'a normal day'.....???


    Why not open the book with the marriage to this cheating son of a gun and on the honeymoon she finds out about another women.

    Or maybe if you don't want 'a divorce' the MC could have just moved in with boyfriend and gets key cut and walks in on you know what.


    Both instances give the reader a rollercoaster start with happiest moment to worst with in a few pages.


    Just a thought. :)
     
  16. Welsh_Biatch
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    Welsh_Biatch New Member

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    First Paragraph

    Can anyone advise me how to start a first paragraph, I always have trouble with this but its even worse this time around, I hate to start with the weather and usually start middle way through and usually am happy with. Any ideas?
     
  17. Destin
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    Destin Senior Member

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    Starting in action is a good hook, and gets your readers interested right away. When I say action it doesn't have to be action movie(fight scene, argument, gun fight, car chase) it can be anything from an interesting conversation to somebody's death. Is the action related to the main conflict? That is up to you.
    Personally, I like to open with some action unrelated to the plot. Kind of a mini-conflict, easily solved by the characters. I find it really helps develop the characters without seeming boring or mundane.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you start it with the first sentence!

    that sounds smart-aleckly simplistic, but it's true... you're not writing a 'first paragraph'... you're writing an 'opening sentence'... and once you have that, the first paragraph will flow from it...
     
  19. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    "The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."

    Thus begins, in my opinion, the greatest novel ever written. One need not throw the reader immediately into actions or problems of any great scale; here the only conceivable problem is lack of elucidation, which is sublimely counter-acted over the next page or so. Dorian Gray - proof that truly great writers break such rules and break them wonderfully.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A novel can be great without having a great beginning, and vice versa. Still, a strong beginning gives the all-important first impression, especially for an unknown writer trying to get published.

    Today's market for literatuire is not the same as that of a even a few decades ago.
     
  21. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    It really depends on the story, but often if you start in the middle of something it draws people in immediately, however this isn’t suitable for every story, likewise writing information about a regular day for some stories might seem mundane and boring, but for others be vital for what is going to happen next. If you read American Psycho for instance there are lots of mundane sections there but they are there for a reason to mark out the difference between the other things that fill patricks life.
     
  22. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    well said.
     
  23. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    While I like the opening you have written, and I also like the idea of starting maybe a couple of hours or so before the actual reveal that her boyfriend has been cheating, I do not agree with the sentiment that a scene of an everyday life would undeniably be boring.

    A good writer could make it very interesting.

    I was reading 'playing with fire' and the narrative style is a hook in and of itself, and the book quickly gets into the meat of the story.

    Just me talking.
     

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